DOES YOUR FAMILY HAVE A SKELETON IN THE CLOSET?
The phrase “skeleton in the closet” (or “in the cupboard,” as they say in England) presumably alludes to the danger of keeping ugly things behind a door anyone might innocently open. The same idea has been widely used to comic effect, in stories where guests drop by and the homeowner shoves the household mess behind the nearest closable door, only to see everything come crashing out when the doorknob is bumped. But the metaphorical “skeleton in the closet”—the family secret that keeps fear of disgrace hanging over everyone’s head—is no joke to those who live with one.
Such skeletons may come in the form of drug addiction, domestic abuse, academic difficulties, or unemployment—or anything an individual family is ashamed of, whether or not it seems like a big deal to most people. If your household is troubled by such a problem, you don’t have to keep suffering in the silence of learned helplessness.
What’s Really the Worst Thing That Could Happen?
More often than not, hiding a problem does more harm than bringing it into the open:
- Families avoid getting needed help.
- Physical health and family relationships are under constant stress.
- Children in particular suffer from the strain of concealment. Their fear of exposure is compounded by the fear of parental anger, and they frequently imagine more horrible scenarios than actually exist.
Imaginations out of control aren’t solely a children’s issue, though: most “skeletons” are exacerbated by adults picturing the whole family’s being ostracized for all generations. A proven technique for reducing anxiety is to ask yourself honestly: What’s the absolute worst thing that could result if this issue becomes public? If your first answer makes you shudder, ask the follow-up question, “And then what?”—and repeat with your next answer and the next, if necessary, until you come to a consequence you can live with. Once the truth of this not being the end of the world becomes real to you, you’ll be far better equipped to deal with the situation, or to realize it’s not worth worrying about.
Even if a problem is real and serious, you don’t have to be a helpless victim.
- Stop being afraid to request help with job-search or other financial difficulties. Your real friends will understand, and you can always find something to do for them in return.
- If someone has an addiction or mental illness, seek professional treatment—or if they won’t cooperate with that idea, get professional counseling for yourself and your children.
- If the situation is physically dangerous, get out and get the kids out. Call a hotline, social services agency, or women’s center for help if necessary.
The best way to stop living in fear of closet skeletons—or other problems—is to work daily on proving yourself capable of handling tough situations.
- Know your strengths and find ways to use them.
- Take up productive hobbies that you enjoy.
- Take care of your own physical and mental health. Keep your strength up so you can be strong for others.
Teach your children the same habits. Start them early on growing up strong, courageous, discerning—and active in building a world where no closet need be haunted by skeletons!